Red Sox

Nation STATion: The truth hurts

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Nation STATion: The truth hurts

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

As constituted right now, the Red Sox are a .500 ball club.

On Monday, July 25 the Red Sox played their 100th game of the season and lost, 3-1. After that game, which ended a four-game winning streak, the Sox were 62-38, 24 games over .500. Yesterday, the Sox lost to Tampa Bay in game number 146 to drop their record to 85-61, 24 games over .500.

The fact that the Sox have played .500 ball, 23-23, since that Monday in July says a lot about the team. While the teams slump has been most visible lately -- they've won just twice in their last 11 games -- we can look back at that tipping point and see the beginning of the troubles that they are encountering full blast right now.

With 241 runs scored over that time period, second only to the Yankees (theyve scored 262), we know that this team can hit with the best of them.

With 221 runs allowed since that date, they are in a group that includes Toronto, Baltimore, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Oakland, which means that the Sox pitching ranks with teams whose records are among the worst in the AL.

There is no denying the Red Sox hitting is outstanding:
Boston is second the majors in batting, slightly behind Texas, both with a .279 average.

They are second to the Yankees in the majors in homers with 183.

They dropped to second in the majors in runs scored with 283, as the Yankees moved on top with 785.

They lead the majors in OBP, slugging, and OPS.

But look at the pitching:
The American League average ERA is 4.05; the Sox average is 4.08.

They have thrown just two complete games all season, tied with the Royals for worst in the AL.

The average team in the AL has allowed 447 walks; the Sox pitchers have walked 476, the same as the Orioles.

This team was constructed around the pitching of the big three: Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, with the drop-off around the fringes being quite significant. Those who stated early in the season that the Sox pitching was deep because of Lackey and Dice-K were only fooling themselves. They are nothing more than fourth or fifth starters in most rotations -- and they've actually proven to be worse than most.

I understand that the Sox have had injuries to every member of their rotation, which is why they have had 10 different pitchers on the hill to start a game. But, other than the mixed results of Erik Bedard and Tim Wakefield, the replacements have struggled. The fact is that when Dice-K went down for the season, the Sox made no real move to replace him as Miller, Aceves and Wake were moved into the rotation at different points. It was only at the trading deadline that the Sox added the oft-injured Erik Bedard and by that time Buchholz had been out of action for six weeks. The Sox had no one, and still have no one, to replace John Lackey.

If you leave out the big three of Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, the Sox starters have a record of 29-27, just over .500 but that isnt even an accurate reflection of how poorly Bedard, Dice-K, Aceves, Wakefield, Miller, Lackey, and Weiland have pitched as starters. Their cumulative starting ERA of 5.57 really tells the story.

The starting pitching has been questionable all season (may I remind you that Buchholz had given up 10 homers in 82.2 innings this year after giving up just nine in 173.2 last year) and the moves that have been made are somewhat akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Lets go to the numbers:

A quality start doesnt seem that difficult, six innings, three or fewer runs allowed. The Sox starters have managed to do that in only 68 games or 47 of their starts. Only the Orioles and Royals have a lower percentage.

Throwing a Quality Start in no way means a Sox win. Of Bostons 68 Quality Starts, the Sox have lost 14 of them, a rate of 21 percent. The Yankees, who entered the season with a starting pitching staff that was not regarded any more highly than mediocre have thrown 77 quality starts and have lost just 12 of those games, a rate of 16 percent. The Tigers pitchers, with the Great Verlander, have now thrown 81 quality starts, and have lost just 10 of the games, an efficient 12 percent. The Texas pitchers have 89 quality starts with 10 losses an even better 11 percent.

Before you blame the hitters, they have enabled Sox starters to earn a bunch of cheap wins. This is actually a real stat representing a win by the starter in a non-Quality Start. The Sox have 21 cheap wins for their starters, more than any other team in the leagueby a lot. The Yankees and the Tigers are second, each with 14, while the Rangers, Angels and Mariners have the fewest in the league with just five.

Here is your quotable stat: RSIP which is Runs Scored per 27 outs while the pitcher was in the game. This indication of run support for the Sox starters is 5.7, the highest in the league.

Yet, despite all those runs, the Sox starters have only pitched an average of 5.9 innings this season. Think about the pressure put on the bullpen by performances like that.

Lets briefly discuss the bullpen, which has seemed in disarray of late except for Jonathan Papelbon, who continues to build up his free agency resume. Throughout the season, it is the bullpen that has exhibited the better performances.
Cumulatively, the pen is 23-19 on the season. The Yank relievers are 22-15, the Tigers are 19-18, and the Rangers are 18-25 (hello, Achilles heel).
Cumulatively, the Sox relievers are appeared in 390 games. The Yank relievers 388, the Tigers 375, and the Rangers 369.
So why are the Sox relievers wearing out? On 119 occasions, they have had to pitch more than one inning in an appearance; the Yankee relievers have been called upon to do that 93 times, the Tigers 104 times, and the Rangers just 90 times. Once again, the short starts are brought into play.
Even Daniel Bard is showing signs of fatigue. In the first half of the season he held righties to a .116 average, in the second half a still good, but not as spectacular, .224. Bard held lefties prior to the break to a .200 average in 84 plate appearances and since just .180 in 74 plate appearances. But, there has even been a price for that success. In the 10 fewer plate appearances, Bard has been forced to throw six more pitches as lefties are now able to foul off 48.9 of his pitches compared to 35.4 before the break. Thats another sign of fatigue.

All this is not to say that the Sox are not going to make the postseason. Its not even saying that the Sox wont win the World Series. If Pedey comes home tomorrow night against the Jays and reinvigorates the team to return to the level of success they showed after their initial 0-6 road trip, all could be well. Glorious, even.

The truth is, they just need to play around .500 to make the postseason. If they split the 16 games remaining, they will finish at 93-69. For the Rays to tie them, they must go 12-5. Not impossible, but not likely considering they have three each against the Orioles and Jays, four against Boston, and seven against New York remaining.

But heres the truth that Francona has to grapple with: When the Sox score four or fewer runs, their record is 27-49.

Once you get into the postseason the better the pitching, which means it becomes harder to score five runs. But even if Beckett comes back healthy and even as the Nation holds out hope that Buchholz can return, five runs is what this team needs to win games.

And the truth is: thats a lot of runs.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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